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13.5 Cases

Mixed Goods and Services Contracts: The “Predominant Factor” Test

Pittsley v. Houser

875 P.2d 232 (Idaho App. 1994)

Swanstrom, J.

In September of 1988, Jane Pittsley contracted with Hilton Contract Carpet Co. (Hilton) for the installation of carpet in her home. The total contract price was $4,402 [about $7,900 in 2010 dollars]. Hilton paid the installers $700 to put the carpet in Pittsley’s home. Following installation, Pittsley complained to Hilton that some seams were visible, that gaps appeared, that the carpet did not lay flat in all areas, and that it failed to reach the wall in certain locations. Although Hilton made various attempts to fix the installation, by attempting to stretch the carpet and other methods, Pittsley was not satisfied with the work. Eventually, Pittsley refused any further efforts to fix the carpet. Pittsley initially paid Hilton $3,500 on the contract, but refused to pay the remaining balance of $902.

Pittsley later filed suit, seeking rescission of the contract, return of the $3,500 and incidental damages. Hilton answered and counterclaimed for the balance remaining on the contract. The matter was heard by a magistrate sitting without a jury. The magistrate found that there were defects in the installation and that the carpet had been installed in an unworkmanlike manner. The magistrate also found that there was a lack of evidence on damages. The trial was continued to allow the parties to procure evidence on the amount of damages incurred by Pittsley. Following this continuance, Pittsley did not introduce any further evidence of damages, though witnesses for Hilton estimated repair costs at $250.

Although Pittsley had asked for rescission of the contract and a refund of her money, the magistrate determined that rescission, as an equitable remedy, was only available when one party committed a breach so material that it destroyed the entire purpose of the contract. Because the only estimate of damages was for $250, the magistrate ruled rescission would not be a proper remedy. Instead, the magistrate awarded Pittsley $250 damages plus $150 she expended in moving furniture prior to Hilton’s attempt to repair the carpet. On the counterclaim, the magistrate awarded Hilton the $902 remaining on the contract. Additionally, both parties had requested attorney fees in the action. The magistrate determined that both parties had prevailed and therefore awarded both parties their attorney fees.

Following this decision, Pittsley appealed to the district court, claiming that the transaction involved was governed by the Idaho Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), [Citation]. Pittsley argued that if the UCC had been properly applied, a different result would have been reached. The district court agreed with Pittsley’s argument, reversing and remanding the case to the magistrate to make additional findings of fact and to apply the UCC to the transaction.…

Hilton now appeals the decision of the district court. Hilton claims that Pittsley failed to allege or argue the UCC in either her pleadings or at trial. Even if application of the UCC was properly raised, Hilton argues that there were no defects in the goods that were the subject of the transaction, only in the installation, making application of the UCC inappropriate.…

The single question upon which this appeal depends is whether the UCC is applicable to the subject transaction. If the underlying transaction involved the sale of “goods,” then the UCC would apply. If the transaction did not involve goods, but rather was for services, then application of the UCC would be erroneous.

Idaho Code § 28–2-105(1) defines “goods” as “all things (including specially manufactured goods) which are movable at the time of identification to the contract for sale.…” Although there is little dispute that carpets are “goods,” the transaction in this case also involved installation, a service. Such hybrid transactions, involving both goods and services, raise difficult questions about the applicability of the UCC. Two lines of authority have emerged to deal with such situations.

The first line of authority, and the majority position, utilizes the “predominant factor” test. The Ninth Circuit, applying the Idaho Uniform Commercial Code to the subject transaction, restated the predominant factor test as:

The test for inclusion or exclusion is not whether they are mixed, but, granting that they are mixed, whether their predominant factor, their thrust, their purpose, reasonably stated, is the rendition of service, with goods incidentally involved (e.g., contract with artist for painting) or is a transaction of sale, with labor incidentally involved (e.g., installation of a water heater in a bathroom).

[Citations]. This test essentially involves consideration of the contract in its entirety, applying the UCC to the entire contract or not at all.

The second line of authority, which Hilton urges us to adopt, allows the contract to be severed into different parts, applying the UCC to the goods involved in the contract, but not to the non-goods involved, including services as well as other non-goods assets and property. Thus, an action focusing on defects or problems with the goods themselves would be covered by the UCC, while a suit based on the service provided or some other non-goods aspect would not be covered by the UCC.…

We believe the predominant factor test is the more prudent rule. Severing contracts into various parts, attempting to label each as goods or non-goods and applying different law to each separate part clearly contravenes the UCC’s declared purpose “to simplify, clarify and modernize the law governing commercial transactions.” I.C. § 28–1–102(2)(a). As the Supreme Court of Tennessee suggested in [Citation], such a rule would, in many contexts, present “difficult and in some instances insurmountable problems of proof in segregating assets and determining their respective values at the time of the original contract and at the time of resale, in order to apply two different measures of damages.”

Applying the predominant factor test to the case before us, we conclude that the UCC was applicable to the subject transaction. The record indicates that the contract between the parties called for “175 yds Masterpiece # 2122-Installed” for a price of $4319.50. There was an additional charge for removing the existing carpet. The record indicates that Hilton paid the installers $700 for the work done in laying Pittsley’s carpet. It appears that Pittsley entered into this contract for the purpose of obtaining carpet of a certain quality and color. It does not appear that the installation, either who would provide it or the nature of the work, was a factor in inducing Pittsley to choose Hilton as the carpet supplier. On these facts, we conclude that the sale of the carpet was the predominant factor in the contract, with the installation being merely incidental to the purchase. Therefore, in failing to consider the UCC, the magistrate did not apply the correct legal principles to the facts as found. We must therefore vacate the judgment and remand for further findings of fact and application of the UCC to the subject transaction.

Case Questions

  1. You may recall in Chapter 11 "Discharge of Obligations" the discussion of the “substantial performance” doctrine. It says that if a common-law contract is not completely, but still “substantially,” performed, the nonbreaching party still owes something on the contract. And it was noted there that under the UCC, there is no such doctrine. Instead, the “perfect tender” rule applies: the goods delivered by the seller must be exactly right. Does the distinction between the substantial performance doctrine and the perfect tender rule shed light on what difference applying the common law or the UCC would make in this case?
  2. If Pittsley won on remand, what would she get?
  3. In discussing the predominant factor test, the court here quotes from the Ninth Circuit, a federal court of appeals. What is a federal court doing making rules for a state court?

“Merchants” under the UCC

Goldkist, Inc. v. Brownlee

355 S.E.2d 773 (Ga. App. 1987)

Beasley, J.

The question is whether the two defendant farmers, who as a partnership both grew and sold their crops, were established by the undisputed facts as not being “merchants” as a matter of law, according to the definition in [Georgia UCC 2-104(1)].…

Appellees admit that their crops are “goods” as defined in [2-105]. The record establishes the following facts. The partnership had been operating the row crop farming business for 14 years, producing peanuts, soybeans, corn, milo, and wheat on 1,350 acres, and selling the crops.

It is also established without dispute that Barney Brownlee, whose deposition was taken, was familiar with the marketing procedure of “booking” crops, which sometimes occurred over the phone between the farmer and the buyer, rather than in person, and a written contract would be signed later. He periodically called plaintiff’s agent to check the price, which fluctuated. If the price met his approval, he sold soybeans. At this time the partnership still had some of its 1982 crop in storage, and the price was rising slowly. Mr. Brownlee received a written confirmation in the mail concerning a sale of soybeans and did not contact plaintiff to contest it but simply did nothing. In addition to the agricultural business, Brownlee operated a gasoline service station.…

In dispute are the facts with respect to whether or not an oral contract was made between Barney Brownlee for the partnership and agent Harrell for the buyer in a July 22 telephone conversation. The plaintiff’s evidence was that it occurred and that it was discussed soon thereafter with Brownlee at the service station on two different occasions, when he acknowledged it, albeit reluctantly, because the market price of soybeans had risen. Mr. Brownlee denies booking the soybeans and denies the nature of the conversations at his service station with Harrell and the buyer’s manager.…

Whether or not the farmers in this case are “merchants” as a matter of law, which is not before us, the evidence does not demand a conclusion that they are outside of that category which is excepted from the requirement of a signed writing to bind a buyer and seller of goods.…To allow a farmer who deals in crops of the kind at issue, or who otherwise comes within the definition of “merchant” in [UCC] 2-104(1), to renege on a confirmed oral booking for the sale of crops, would result in a fraud on the buyer. The farmer could abide by the booking if the price thereafter declined but reject it if the price rose; the buyer, on the other hand, would be forced to sell the crop following the booking at its peril, or wait until the farmer decides whether to honor the booking or not.

Defendants’ narrow construction of “merchant” would, given the booking procedure used for the sale of farm products, thus guarantee to the farmers the best of both possible worlds (fulfill booking if price goes down after booking and reject it if price improves) and to the buyers the worst of both possible worlds. On the other hand, construing “merchants” in [UCC] 2-104(1) as not excluding as a matter of law farmers such as the ones in this case, protects them equally as well as the buyer. If the market price declines after the booking, they are assured of the higher booking price; the buyer cannot renege, as [UCC]2-201(2) would apply.

In giving this construction to the statute, we are persuaded by [Citation], supra, and the analyses provided in the following cases from other states: [Citations]. By the same token, we reject the narrow construction given in other states’ cases: [Citations]. We believe this is the proper construction to give the two statutes, [UCC 2-104(1) and 2-201(2)], as taken together they are thus further branches stemming from the centuries-old simple legal idea pacta servanda sunt—agreements are to be kept. So construed, they evince the legislative intent to enforce the accepted practices of the marketplace among those who frequent it.

Judgment reversed. [Four justices concurred with Justice Beasley].

Benham, J., dissenting.

Because I cannot agree with the majority’s conclusion that appellees are merchants, I must respectfully dissent.

…The validity of [plaintiff’s] argument, that sending a confirmation within a reasonable time makes enforceable a contract even though the statute of frauds has not been satisfied, rests upon a showing that the contract was “[b]etween merchants.” “Between merchants” is statutorily defined in the Uniform Commercial Code as meaning “any transaction with respect to which both parties are chargeable with the knowledge or skill of merchants” [2-104(3)]. “‘Merchant’ means a person [1] who deals in goods of the kind or [2] otherwise by his occupation holds himself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to the practices or goods involved in the transaction or [3] to whom such knowledge or skill may be attributed by his employment of an agent or broker or other intermediary who by his occupation holds himself out as having such knowledge or skill” [Citation]. Whether [plaintiff] is a merchant is not questioned here; the question is whether, under the facts in the record, [defendant]/farmers are merchants.…

The Official Comment to § 2-104 of the U.C.C. (codified in Georgia)…states: “This Article assumes that transactions between professionals in a given field require special and clear rules which may not apply to a casual or inexperienced seller or buyer…This section lays the foundation of this policy by defining those who are to be regarded as professionals or ‘merchants’ and by stating when a transaction is deemed to be ‘between merchants.’ The term ‘merchant’ as defined here roots in the ‘law merchant’ concept of a professional in business.” As noted by the Supreme Court of Kansas in [Citation] (1976): “The concept of professionalism is heavy in determining who is a merchant under the statute. The writers of the official UCC comment virtually equate professionals with merchants—the casual or inexperienced buyer or seller is not to be held to the standard set for the professional in business. The defined term ‘between merchants,’ used in the exception proviso to the statute of frauds, contemplates the knowledge and skill of professionals on each side of the transaction.” The Supreme Court of Iowa [concurs in cases cited]. Where, as here, the undisputed evidence is that the farmer’s sole experience in the marketplace consists of selling the crops he has grown, the courts of several of our sister states have concluded that the farmer is not a merchant. [Citations]. Just because appellee Barney Brownlee kept “conversant with the current price of [soybeans] and planned to market it to his advantage does not necessarily make him a ‘merchant.’ It is but natural for anyone who desires to sell anything he owns to negotiate and get the best price obtainable. If this would make one a ‘merchant,’ then practically anyone who sold anything would be deemed a merchant, hence would be an exception under the statute[,] and the need for a contract in writing could be eliminated in most any kind of a sale.” [Citation].

It is also my opinion that the record does not reflect that appellees “dealt” in soybeans, or that through their occupation, they held themselves out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to the practices or goods involved in the transaction. See [UCC] 2-104(1). “[A]lthough a farmer may well possess special knowledge or skill with respect to the production of a crop, the term ‘merchant,’ as used in the Uniform Commercial Code, contemplates special knowledge and skill associated with the marketplace. As to the area of farm crops, this special skill or knowledge means, for instance, special skill or knowledge associated with the operation of the commodities market. It is inconceivable that the drafters of the Uniform Commercial Code intended to place the average farmer, who merely grows his yearly crop and sells it to the local elevator, etc., on equal footing with the professional commodities dealer whose sole business is the buying and selling of farm commodities” [Citations]. If one who buys or sells something on an annual basis is a merchant, then the annual purchaser of a new automobile is a merchant who need not sign a contract for the purchase in order for the contract to be enforceable.…

If these farmers are not merchants, a contract signed by both parties is necessary for enforcement. If the farmer signs a contract, he is liable for breach of contract if he fails to live up to its terms. If he does not sign the contract, he cannot seek enforcement of the terms of the purchaser’s offer to buy.…

Because I find no evidence in the record that appellees meet the statutory qualifications as merchants, I would affirm the decision of the trial court. I am authorized to state that [three other justices] join in this dissent.

Case Questions

  1. How is the UCC’s ten-day-reply doctrine in issue here?
  2. Five justices thought the farmers here should be classified as “merchants,” and four of them thought otherwise. What argument did the majority have against calling the farmers “merchants”? What argument did the dissent have as to why they should not be called merchants?
  3. Each side marshaled persuasive precedent from other jurisdictions to support its contention. As a matter of public policy, is one argument better than another?
  4. What does the court mean when it says the defendants are not excluded from the definition of merchants “as a matter of law”?

Unconscionability in Finance Lease Contracts

Info. Leasing Corp. v. GDR Investments, Inc.

787 N.E.2d 652 (Ohio App. 2003)

Gorman, J.

The plaintiff-appellant, Information Leasing Corporation (“ILC”), appeals from the order of the trial court rendering judgment in favor of the defendants-appellees…GDR Investments, Inc. [defendant Arora’s corporation], Pinnacle Exxon, and Avtar S. Arora, in an action to recover $15,877.37 on a five-year commercial lease of an Automated Teller Machine (“ATM”).…

This is one of many cases involving ILC that have been recently before this court. ILC is an Ohio corporation wholly owned by the Provident Bank. ILC is in the business of leasing ATMs through a third party, or vendor. In all of these cases, the vendor has been…Credit Card Center (“CCC”). CCC was in the business of finding lessees for the machines and then providing the services necessary to operate them, offering the lessees attractive commissions. Essentially, CCC would find a customer, usually a small business interested in having an ATM available on its premises, arrange for its customer to sign a lease with ILC, and then agree to service the machine, keeping it stocked with cash and paying the customer a certain monthly commission. Usually, as in the case of [defendants], the owner of the business was required to sign as a personal guarantor of the lease. The twist in this story is that CCC soon went bankrupt, leaving its customers stuck with ATMs under the terms of leases with ILC but with no service provider. Rather than seeking to find another company to service the ATMs, many of CCC’s former customers, like [defendants], simply decided that they no longer wanted the ATMs and were no longer going to make lease payments to ILC. The terms of each lease, however, prohibited cancellation. The pertinent section read,


Either out of a sense of fair play or a further desire to make enforcement of the lease ironclad, ILC put a notice on the top of the lease that stated,


Arora, the owner of [defendant corporation], was a resident alien with degrees in commerce and economics from the University of Delhi, India. Arora wished to have an ATM on the premises of his Exxon station in the hope of increasing business. He made the mistake of arranging acquisition of the ATM through CCC. According to his testimony, a representative of CCC showed up at the station one day and gave him “formality papers” to sign before the ATM could be delivered. Arora stated that he was busy with other customers when the CCC representative asked him to sign the papers. He testified that when he informed the CCC representative that he needed time to read the documents before signing them, he was told not to worry and…that the papers did not need his attention and that his signature was a mere formality. Arora signed the ILC lease, having never read it.

Within days, CCC went into bankruptcy. Arora found himself with an ATM that he no longer wanted.…According to his testimony, he tried unsuccessfully to contact ILC to take back the ATM. Soon Arora suffered a mild heart attack, the gas station went out of business, and the ATM, which had been in place for approximately eighteen days, was left sitting in the garage, no longer in use until ILC came and removed it several months later.

Unfortunately for Arora, the lease also had an acceleration clause that read,

DEFAULT. If you fail to pay us or perform as agreed, we will have the right to (i) terminate this lease, (ii) sue you for all past due payment AND ALL FUTURE PAYMENTS UNDER THIS LEASE, plus the Residual Value we have placed on the equipment and other charges you owe us, (iii) repossess the equipment at your expense and (iv) exercise any other right or remedy which may be available under applicable law or proceed by court act.

The trial court listened to the evidence in this case, which was awkwardly presented due in large part to Arora’s decision to act as his own trial counsel. Obviously impressed with Arora’s honesty and sympathetic to his situation, the trial court found that Arora owed ILC nothing. In so ruling, the court stated that ILC “ha[d] not complied with any of its contractual obligations and that [Arora] appropriately canceled any obligations by him, if there really were any.” The court also found that ILC, “if they did have a contract, failed to mitigate any damages by timely picking up the machine after [Arora] gave them notice to pick up the machine.”…

ILC contends, and we do not disagree, that the lease in question satisfied the definition of a “finance lease” under [UCC 2A-407]. A finance lease is considerably different from an ordinary lease in that it adds a third party, the equipment supplier or manufacturer (in this case, the now defunct CCC). As noted by White and Summers, “In effect, the finance lessee * * * is relying upon the manufacturer * * * to provide the promised goods and stand by its promises and warranties; the [lessee] does not look to the [lessor] for these. The [lessor] is only a finance lessor and deals largely in paper, rather than goods.” [Citation].

One notorious feature of a finance lease is its typically noncancelable nature, which is specifically authorized by statute [UCC 2A-407]. [UCC 2A-407(1)] provides in the case of a finance lease that is not a consumer lease, “[T]he lessee’s promises under the lease contract become irrevocable and independent upon the lessee’s acceptance of the goods.” The same statutory section also makes clear that the finance lease is “not subject to cancellation, termination, modification, repudiation, excuse, or substitution without the consent of the party to whom it runs.” [Citation]

Because of their noncancelable nature, finance leases enjoy somewhat of a reputation. The titles of law review articles written about them reveal more than a little cynicism regarding their fairness: [Citations].

…As described by Professors White and Summers, “The parties can draft a lease agreement that carefully excludes warranty and promissory liability of the finance lessor to the lessee, and that sets out what is known in the trade as a ‘hell or high water clause,’ namely, a clause that requires the lessee to continue to make rent payments to the finance lessor even though the [equipment] is unsuitable, defective, or destroyed.”…“The lessor’s responsibility is merely to provide the money, not to instruct the lessee like a wayward child concerning a suitable purchase * * *. Absent contrary agreement, even if [, for example, a finance-leased] Boeing 747 explodes into small pieces in flight and is completely uninsured, lessee’s obligation to pay continues.”

…Some people complain about being stuck with the bill; Arora’s complaint was that he was stuck with the ATM.…

To begin the proper legal analysis, we note first that this was not a “consumer lease” expressly excepted from [UCC 2A-407]. A “consumer lease” is defined in [UCC 2A-103(e)] as one in which the lessee is “an individual and who takes under the lease primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose.” This would definitely not apply here, where the ATM was placed on the business premises of the Exxon station, and where the lessee was [Arora’s corporation] and not Arora individually. (Arora was liable individually as the personal guarantor of [his corporation]’s obligations under the lease.)…

Certain defenses do remain, however. First, the UCC expressly allows for the application of the doctrine of unconscionability to finance leases, both consumer and commercial. [Citation] authorizes the trial court to find “any clause of a lease contract to have been unconscionable at the time it was made * * *.” If it so finds, the court is given the power to “refuse to enforce the lease contract, * * * enforce the remainder of the lease contract without the unconscionable clause, or * * * limit the application of the unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result.” [Citation]

In this case, the trial court made no findings as to whether the finance lease was unconscionable. The primary purpose of the doctrine of unconscionability is to prevent oppression and unfair surprise. [Citation] “Oppression” refers to substantive unconscionability and arises from overly burdensome or punitive terms of a contract, whereas “unfair surprise” refers to procedural unconscionability and is implicated in the formation of a contract, when one of the parties is either overborne by a lack of equal bargaining power or otherwise unfairly or unjustly drawn into a contract. [Citation]

It should be pointed that, although harsh, many characteristics of a finance lease are not inherently unconscionable and, as we have discussed, are specifically authorized by statute. Simply because a finance lease has a “hell or high water clause” does not make it unconscionable. As noted, a finance lease is a separate animal—it is supposed to secure minimal risk to the lessor. At least one court has rejected the argument that an acceleration clause in a commercial finance lease is punitive and unconscionable in the context of parties of relatively equal bargaining power. See [Citation]

At the heart of Arora’s defense in this case was his claim that he was misled into signing the finance lease by the CCC representative and was unfairly surprised to find himself the unwitting signatory of an oppressive lease. This is clearly an argument that implicated procedural unconscionability. His claim of being an unwitting signatory, however, must be carefully balanced against the law in Ohio that places upon a person a duty to read any contract before signing it, a duty that is not excused simply because a person willingly gives into the encouragement to “just go ahead and sign.” See [Citation]

Moreover, we note that courts have also recognized that the lessor may give, through word or conduct, the lessee consent to cancel an otherwise noncancelable lease. [UCC 2A-40792)(b)] makes a finance lease “not subject to cancellation, termination, modification, repudiation, excuse, or substitution without the consent of the party to whom it runs.” (Emphasis supplied.) As noted by the court in Colonial Court [Citation], the UCC does not say anything with respect to the form or content of the consent. The Colonial Pacific court concluded, therefore, “that the consent may be oral and may be established by conduct that reasonably manifests an intent. * * * Any manifestations that the obligation of the lessee will not be enforced independently of the obligation that runs to the consenting party is sufficient.” The question whether consent has been given to a cancellation is a question of fact for the trier of fact.

We raise this point because the evidence indicates that there was some communication between Arora and ILC before ILC retrieved the ATM. It is unclear whether ILC removed the ATM at Arora’s request, or whether the company was forcibly repossessing the equipment pursuant to the default provision of the lease. In view of the murkiness of the testimony, it is unclear when the ATM was taken back and when the final lease payment was made. One interesting question that arises from ILC’s retrieval of the ATM, not addressed in the record, is what ILC did with the equipment afterward. Did ILC warehouse the equipment for the next four and one-half years (conduct that would appear unprofitable and therefore unlikely) or did the company then turn around and lease the ATM to someone else? If there was another lease, was ILC actually seeking a double recovery on the ATM’s rental value? In this regard, we note that the trial court ruled that ILC had failed to mitigate its damages, a finding that is not supported by the current record, but may well prove to be true upon further trial of the matter.

In sum, this is a case that requires a much more elaborate presentation of evidence by the parties, and much more detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law than those actually made by the trial court. We sustain ILC’s assignment of error upon the basis that the trial court did not apply the correct legal analysis, and that the evidence of record did not mandate a judgment in Arora’s favor. Because of the number of outstanding issues and unresolved factual questions, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand this case for a new trial consistent with the law set forth in this opinion.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded.

Case Questions

  1. Why would a finance lease have such an iron-clad, “hell or high water” noncancellation clause as is apparently common and demonstrated here?
  2. On what basis did the lower court rule in the defendant’s favor?
  3. What is an acceleration clause?
  4. What was Mr. Arora’s main defense? What concern did the court have with it?
  5. The appeals court helpfully suggested several arguments the defendant might make on remand to be relieved of his contract obligations. What were they?